Councilmembers Voice Concern About Funding If City Annexes North Highline

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by Ralph Nichols

If Burien is prohibited from using a 10-year state sales tax credit to help pay for capital costs, the city might not annex the North Highline unincorporated area.

“This seems like a deal breaker for me,” opined Councilman Gordon Shaw during a lengthy discussion on annexation at the Aug. 15 Burien City Council meeting.

“For years King County and the state have been telling us that it’s best for cities to provide services to unincorporated urban areas. It just seems to me that if they’re going to tie our hands on this, maybe we should just sit and wait.”

This, Shaw added, is “pretty serious. I always thought they wanted us to take over the area and manage it the way Burien does it.”

But, offered Councilman Gerald Robison, “I don’t see this as a deal breaker myself. This is a planning issue. It’s not an expense issue…. This is something that would be part of our capital planning, not something we would spend $46 million on in the next five years.”

The Berk Consulting study on annexation (download a PDF here) – the platform for the council discussion – estimates that North Highline needs $46 million in capital improvements, primarily streets and sidewalks.

Robison suggested these projects would be included in the city’s six-year list of capital improvement programs, which is updated and re-prioritized annually.

City Manager Mike Martin said while the sales tax credit of $5 million a year for 10 years “covers only operating expenses, not capital costs, it is possible that funding maintenance infrastructure with the sales tax credit “may be allowed.”

Martin told council members he is exploring this possibility, including seeking an Attorney General’s opinion.

Robison also cautioned that failure to annex North Highline could have unintended consequences for Burien.

“The King County Housing Authority has burdened this area for far too long,” he said. “This concentration of poverty influences the [wider] area, and also influences some [Burien] residents about annexation of the [unincorporated] area.”

At that point, Councilwoman Rose Clark interjected that “for every dollar in South King County that is paid to King County, only part of that dollar comes back to this area.”

Calling it an “issue of fairness,” Clark said the city needs to talk to the county about providing Burien with funds to help pay for capital improvement costs if it annexes North Highline.

Jack Block Jr. said he is concerned that an area about 25 percent the size of Burien has 80 percent of the city’s existing capital needs.

“We no longer can go to the federal government or the state to pay for these projects. We have to look internally to pay for these things … I have some real concerns.

“King County walked away from North Highline and has not met its needs,” Block continued. “So where is the money [for capital improvements] going to come from? I think King County should pay up and cover a portion of the capital costs. They have a debt to North Highline.”

Earlier, Morgan Shook with Berk Consulting told the council, “We believe that even after the expiration of the sales tax credit, [annexation is] a fiscally neutral situation for the city….

“Annexation does have new costs and it does have new revenue. Once the credit expires, the city is in no better or worse situation.”

The firm’s Jay Rogers said North Highline annexation pencils out for Burien but not Seattle because “it is more expensive to extend city of Seattle services than for Burien to extend its services.”

This, Rogers noted, is largely due to the fact that services already in place in the unincorporated area – fire protection, water, sewer, and libraries – would continue to be provided by special service districts after a Burien annexation.

Seattle voters also have voted to tax themselves more to provide more human services, “which is something we do a lot less of,” Martin added.

An updated Berk presentation to the council said unincorporated North Highline has a population of about 17,400, with 6,600 housing units. The assessed property value of $1.4 billion.

“Annexation does not make balancing the [city’s] budget more difficult,” the report said. “Future City Councils will not have to make choices between higher taxes and reduced levels of service to expressly accommodate the annexation area.”

The council will next hold a special meeting on annexation issues on Aug. 22. Since it is a study session, there will be no comments from the public. However, lawmakers agreed that, after a public discussion in the first hour, they will take questions from the public.

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6 Responses to “Councilmembers Voice Concern About Funding If City Annexes North Highline”
  1. I am writing in hopes of clearing up some misperceptions regarding the King County Housing Authority’s programs expressed by Burien City Councilmember Gerald Robison. While we appreciate his concern for the residents of both unincorporated North Highline and the City of Burien I hope the following information will leave B-Town Blog readers with more accurate information aobut KCHA’s investment in the North Highlighline unicorparted area known as White Center.

    KCHA has two former public housing sites in unincorporated North Highline: Greenbridge (formerly known as Park Lake I) and Seola Gardens (formerly known as Park Lake II). Both sites are in the process of being redeveloped and converted from public housing to mixed income communities under HUD’s HOPE VI Program.

    At Greenbridge, KCHA followed through on its commitment to deconcentrate White Center’s low income housing by reducing the number of subsidized homes on site by 245 units. These units were replaced by newly sited subsidized housing in other parts of the county where fewer affordable housing opportunities are available.

    In addition to siting subsidized units in areas of the county where affordable housing is scarce, KCHA also provides higher rent subsidies to any tenant-based Section 8 household wishing to rent in costlier housing markets such as eastside King County. This policy has worked well in enabling low income households to exercise housing choice throughout the region. Unincorporated North Highline currently has only 3 percent of the County’s Public Housing and Section 8 subsidies.

    Readers of this post should be aware that the number of households receiving Section 8 or Public Housing assistance in White Center has actually DECREASED over the past decade. In 2000, White Center was home to 1,043 Section 8 and Public Housing households. In 2011 there are approximately 880 households – a 16 percent reduction. Of these households, 38 percent are elderly, 25 percent are disabled, and 37 percent are families with children. Many of these households work in low-wage jobs and are severely rent burdened. A family in King County must earn $22.62 per hour to rent an average two-bedroom apartment, almost three times the minimum wage!

    The creation of mixed-income communities at Greenbridge and Seola Gardens is a key element in White Center’s revitalization strategy. These HOPE VI developments are broadly supported in the White Center community and have evolved through active input and participation by community residents and institutions. As part of these initiatives, approximately 455 new market-rate homeownership opportunities will be provided by the private market once the housing picture stabilizes, resulting in higher income families living and investing in this area as well as increasing local tax revenue. At an average of $250,000 per house sales value, we estimate that these new homes, once built, will generate $1.4 million annually in property taxes.

    It is important to recognize that housing subsidies in most cases support families who are already living in a neighborhood and are significantly rent burdened, doubled up or homeless. In June, when KCHA opened its Section 8 waiting list for two weeks, some 450 White Center families applied for assistance. Twenty three of these households included a veteran of our armed forces.

    KCHA works in close partnership with the Highline School District, other government agencies and nonprofit providers to support children in the White Center community. The Highline School District reports that they served 600 homeless children in 2010. All of these children could benefit from KCHA housing assistance and there is little question that their academic performance would improve once they were securely housed. Without the affordable housing we provide many more of Highline’s students would be homeless and unable to concentrate on academics. In addition to providing housing, KCHA has been instrumental in leveraging significant educational resources into the community by:

    • providing land for the new White Center Elementary School as well as the Greenbridge Early Learning Center (Educare), a King County Library Branch (the first in north White Center), and a new YWCA adult learning facility;
    • renovating and expanding the Wiley Community Center to support Southwest Boys & Girls Club, Neighborhood House and Highline Community College, programs that serve the entire White Center community, and by providing annual funding to support these programs;
    • providing $5 million in New Markets Tax Credit equity investments to help finance the Greenbridge Early Learning Center;
    • developing an additional Head Start facility at Seola Gardens;
    • actively participating in the White Center Partners Group and the “Promise” educational initiative.

    In addition, KCHA has worked with the White Center community to address an array of other neighborhood priorities. The Housing Authority:

    • secured financing for and developed a new expanded White Center Food Bank facility;
    • helped finance the acquisition and rehabilitation of the Mallard Lake Apartments (now Coronado Springs) by a private developer to address physical deterioration and management issues at this problem property;
    • is presently constructing a pedestrian trail from 4th Avenue SW to link with the King County trail system at 11th Avenue SW; four new community pea patch gardens; over a dozen parks and extensive public art;
    • has invested in providing retail and small business opportunities in our new mixed income communities;
    • provided street-front office space and ongoing funding for the King County Sheriff to support community policing services around KCHA’s communities.
    • purchased nine smaller lots at the edges of Greenbridge – including dilapidated mobile homes and non-conforming auto repair uses that were contributing to neighborhood blight.

    The only other property KCHA owns in the North Highline area is the Arbor Heights Apartments, which was recently annexed into Burien. KCHA purchased the Arbor Heights Apartments in 2002 at the request of the North Highline Unincorporated Area Council. Formerly known as the Cones, Arbor Heights was a dilapidated, crime ridden complex. After KCHA purchased and renovated the property, we partnered with New Futures to provide after-school services for the many children at the site – a program that continues to receive accolades.

    We wish the council and the Burien community the best in your annexation deliberations. I hope the aforementioned information about KCHA’s efforts in the area will be helpful.

  2. Thank you Mrs Rosenberg for your detailed reply. I hope the editors turn it into its own article.

    I had some questions on this article since it seems to affect both the pro and anti annexation groups.

    One: where is the disconnect between your assertions and that of councilmember Robison? Why such different numbers?

    The perception of the potential annexation area and your numbers are vast, how can you rectify that or at least show more facts?

    Is this simply assigning different categories or are your numbers real?

    Thank you,
    Joey Martinez

    • First page, fourth paragraph. As I said before, there is no evidence that the total number of subsidized units will have decreased when Greebridge and Seola Gardens are finished. There are fewer households right now simply because KCHA has not repopulated Seola Gardens.
      Last paragraph. I have not been able to find information on how many households in King County receive Section 8 subsidies or where they are located. You should take note of two things. First, the subsidy is based on a market rental rate determined by HUD, and the family income. In most cases the family is prohibited from paying more than the HUD rate, which I understand does not change from one part of the County to another. My statement about 25% was based on the information put in my last submission, which was taken from KCHA’s own website. I will say, that when I first looked at those numbers Coronado Springs was still owned by KCHA (it apparently does not own the propery anymore, but it is still a subsidized property), and when those units were included White Center’s share went over 30%.
      Jerry Robison

    • Second Page, first paragraph.
      Using figures for the number of KCHA owned subsidized housing units from KCHA’s website, and figures for the number of households earning less than 50% of median income (those most in need of subsidized housing) from the County’s current housing development plan, it is clear that White Center is already over served by subsidized housing compared to the rest of the county. White Center has 838 KCHA owned subsidized units, and 1,799 very low income households. That is ratio of 2.1 households per unit. The same ratio in other cities: Bellevue (4,672 families), 2.7; Redmond (1,477 families), 3.2; Kirkland (1,753 families), 6.5; Kent (5,941 families), 5.3; Auburn (3,468 families), 6.3; Federal Way (5,187 families), 11.2. It seems clear that even with the concentration of low income families that has accompanied KCHA’s present policy of forcing low income families into the White Center area, the relative need for subsidized housing is much larger in other parts of the County.
      Jerry Robison

    • Second page, second paragraph.
      The operative word here is “if” those houses are built. KCHA, as part of its effort to win the community over to its plan, said that all three components of Greenbridge (owner occupied, market rate and subsidized) would be built out together. KCHA has just now offered the first houses for sale. There is no assurance that any other owner occupied units will be built, a prosepect that will be especially likely if those first few houses languish on the market.
      Third paragraph. It should come as no surprise that many existing White Center residents need help with housing costs, but as shown in my last post, the result would be the same or greater in pretty much every other community in the County. KCHA, by concentrating a disproportionate share of its housing resources in the North Highline area has created much of the need in that area, but still has left even greater needs unfulfilled in the rest of the county.
      The remainder of her letter breaks down into two basic themes.
      The first is an investment in the community that was promised as part of getting community support for Greebridge and was necessary to obtaining approvals and funding. All of the educational, economic, community and recreational benefits touted by the KCHA to mitigate (partially) the effects of its large developments.
      The second is that the information to be gleaned from KCHA’s website is incomplete at best. Coronado Springs includes a large number of subsidized units that KCHA managed to move off its total, but still subsidizes. The auto shop referred to was forced to sell in a condemnation action so KCHA could obtain the land to build dozens more units not included in the Greenbridge project and not counted above.
      Bottom line is that my numbers are different from KCHA’s because they have never provided honest totals for how many units they subsidize, and where those units are, leaving me to rely on the information available on their website about the subsidized units they own. It seems plain to me that KCHA has deliberately concentrated poverty in White Center by over serving it with subsidized housing while underserving other parts of the County where the need is as great or greater.
      Jerry Robison

  3. This site kicked me off as a tried to post response, so I will to respond in several short pieces. Starting with some of the statements made in Ms. Rosenberg’s letter.
    First page, second paragraph. Adding up the units listed on KCHA’s website, it owns about 838 subsidized units in White Center, another 271 in Boulevard Park, and another 96 in the area already annexed to Burien. That is 1,205 units in an area of about 32,000 people, and less than five square miles. According to the same KCHA source, it owns about 4,662 subsidized units countywide. 1205 is about 26% of 4,662.
    Third paragraph. The “mixed” communities touted for both Greenbridge and Seola Gardens will, if they are ever completed, have about 2.5-3 times as many units as existed before those projects were started. Both projects have websites where you can find more information. The number of subsidized units is expected to stay about the same, with additional units of “workforce” and other KCHA housing providing most of the added units. That is assuming that KCHA does not instead simply add more subsidized housing units.
    Jerry Robison

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